Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Old McDonald

Yesterday I had what might have been a cultural shock if I had any culture left to speak of. We were talking about obesity, and I noted that in the West, obesity comes not simply from eating too much, but eating the wrong sorts of food - ice cream (nods), cake (nods), McDonalds (blank stare). "You don't know McDonalds?" Silence. "Burger King?" Blank. Then I realized how silly that was... in a country that doesn't eat beef, where would they have heard of McDonalds?

A woman had come from Thailand and complained that the only thing she couldn't take in Sri Lanka was the vegetarian diet. I was quite surprised, until I remembered the food in Siam. Listing off the various parts of the pig they eat there - pig skin, pig fat, pig blood, etc., caused more than a little revulsion among my Sinhala listeners.

Went to see a Mahamevna monastery near Colombo; turns out the monk I went to see had come to see me in Los Angeles two years ago. Small world. I briefly had thought about the idea of joining their organization, and directed some probing questions at my monk-friend:

  • "Would I be able to use a computer?" "We'd have to talk to the head monk."

  • "Would I be able to continue to practice the way I practice meditation?" "Yes."

  • "Would I be able to teach the way I teach?" "That would be a problem." "Why?" "Here we teach according to the suttas." "Well, I also teach according to the suttas, just a different way." Nervous laugh.

They observed the uposatha there yesterday, so I asked to join. They called to the head monk in some other monastery but he was away, so they didn't let me join. I disagree with this sort of thing... teacher-worship. What does a monk in another monastery have to do with welcoming a monk into your uposatha ceremony with whom you are familiar? It wasn't even a different-nikaya excuse. It was just fear of making a decision. When I asked to see this monk's room, I was denied, because the head monk wasn't there. Weird.

But, such complaints aside, the biggest problem I have with these clique-monasteries is that I'm not a part of them. They seem to be teaching good things, and look like nice places, but only for the "in" group. I have to look elsewhere, because I am an outsider. I really either need my own place, or have to find a monastery where the monks practice but are open-minded enough to not discriminate against the practice of other monks.

I was told the Mahamevna group has no nikaya; their teacher teaches the Buddha's teaching. The problem with that is that his followers only accept his interpretation of the Buddha's teaching. That is not having no nikaya; when you only accept one narrow interpretation of the Buddha's teaching, that is starting your own nikaya.

No update on the forest monastery yet. Still waiting to go to see the place. Sri Sambodhi is looking up; today I led a good guided meditation and announced that starting tomorrow we will have meditation at 7 PM every day. Should be a good way to build support for the center.